Alice H. Parker

Alice H. Parker (b. 1895) is an African American inventor known for her contribution to the heating furnace. She invented a furnace that supplied central heating for entire homes and buildings. Parker was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1885. She attended Howard University Academy, a high school located in Washington D.C., and was granted a certificate with honors in 1910.

Alice’s patent for the heating furnaces was filed in 1919 which happened before the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement. The world was still in chaos because of the aftermath of World War 1. During the early 20th century, women had very limited opportunities, let alone women of color; racial and sexual discrimination was still prevalent. These two movements removed many obstacles that women and African Americans had to face and open up new possibilities for them. At the time, Parker receiving a patent for her invention as both a woman and an African American was truly unusual and an outstanding achievement for her and a newly inspired generation of African American women.

In the early years of the 20th century, natural gas was used for industrial heating applications but no one at the time considered using it as a form of heat for homes and businesses. That is where Parker stepped in. She came up with the idea of using a single source of heat, centrally located, to provide warmth through air pipes to a home. Her invention has helped provide centralized heating to millions of homes and buildings worldwide.

US Patent No. 1,325,905
Documents from the U.S. Patent Office show diagrams of Parker’s invention.

The pain point that Parker solved was staying warm in the wintertime without having to chop wood and make a fire. Her invention also has a better circulation of heat versus the standard fireplace. Parker’s central heating furnace was patented on December 23, 1919. Her heating furnace was different from the other furnaces around at that time. Her invention helped people as they didn’t need to stock and burn wood in a traditional furnace which is much more hazardous and time-consuming. Her design had air ducts that allowed heat to spread throughout the structure. Parker’s invention included a multiple burner system and used natural gas. What made it especially unique is that it was like later zone heating, where the temperature could be moderated in different areas of a building.

Parker’s invention also decreased the risk of the house or building fires that heating units posed by eliminating the need to leave a burning fireplace on throughout the night.

Parker’s invention was further improved in 1935 by scientists who created forced convection wall heaters that use a coal furnace, electric fan, and ductwork throughout a home. Nowadays we use a thermostat and a forced air furnace in our homes which can be attributed to Alice’s design and invention of the central heating furnace. The NJ Chamber named its “Women Leaders in Innovation” award after he It can be noted that without Parker’s invention of the central heating furnace, we could be heating our houses in a very different way. Today, Parker does not get enough credit as an inventor of something that everyone uses today and is vital to our modern-day life.

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